by Dr. David Boan
Love Beyond Borders is the Boise First United Methodist Church (Cathedral of the Rockies) campaign to create equitable access to vaccines among the poor countries of the world. When the campaign started in the spring of 2021 the main barrier to vaccine equity was the lack of vaccine.
Western countries had purchased the majority of vaccines leaving poor countries without the supplies needed to protect their people. Love Beyond Borders (LBB) called attention to this inequity with the refrain that the pandemic would not be over until it is over everywhere.
To date LBB has raised $472,597 from United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) via the LBB Advance and direct United Methodist Church donations to UNICEF. That translates to 242,357 people receiving vaccinations. The larger Interfaith Campaign to End the Pandemic, of which LBB is a part, has raised $2,518,581 from all interfaith partners. That means 1,291,580 people were vaccinated.
In the West people likely think the pandemic is over, but it is far from over in the developing world. What has changed is the main barrier to access. The supply of vaccine has improved greatly, but delivering vaccine is complicated by a variety of local culture issues, conflict, and health infrastructure challenges. Therefore, the work of Love Beyond Borders will continue until we meet our goal of $1,000,000 from the United Methodist community.
As the supply of vaccine improves the donated funds will focus on addressing barriers to vaccination. But what exactly are those vaccination barriers?
The country of Cameroon shows us an example of how complicated vaccinating people can be. The conflicts in Cameroon are many and not well known outside of Africa. The terrorist group Al Shabab operates in the northwest, displacing people into the interior of Cameroon. These displaced people live in temporary camps or move into existing villages where there is no infrastructure to care for them. Refugees from Nigeria are in the northeast, and the ongoing conflict between Cameroonian Anglophone rebels and the government continues in the south and west. All of this means that displaced people camps dot the country, while distrust of the government is high, and the healthcare system overstretched and unable to serve all of the needs. According to UNICEF, 3.9 million people in Cameroon need humanitarian assistance. As if that is not enough, where people are displaced into areas with no sanitation, cholera emerges. As of June 2022, Cholera has infected more than 9,000 people, killing 172, further overwhelming the healthcare system.
Even given these difficulties, Cameroon began national vaccinations in April 2021. The program quickly faced resistant due to a lack of confidence in the vaccine and distrust of the government. The resistance was due in large part to a distrust and the perception that people were being forced to take the vaccine. As a result, the initial supply of vaccine began to expire before it could be used.
By the end of 2021 only 1 percent of government workers had been vaccinated even though the government had focused on state workers, with a target of vaccinating 300,000 workers. Overall, only 1.5 percent of the total population had been vaccinated by the end of 2021. By July 2022 that number rose to only 3.6 percent even though Cameroon has enough vaccine on hand for 5 percent of the population.
Among the partners with Love Beyond Borders is ICR, a non-profit humanitarian and research organization. ICR has been working in Cameroon for several years and currently focuses on developing grass roots and locally supported efforts to strengthen local communities. In terms of vaccination, the projects ask a simple question – What local resources exist that will build confidence in the vaccine and trust in the health system? Three village pilot projects are underway in partnership with the Cameroon Health Districts serving the villages along with local faith networks and faith-based organizations. The approach is wholistic, with an emphasis on broad village development, including public health and care of displaced people. The results will help inform vaccination efforts in Cameroon, including vaccination support developed from the local people rather than from the top down.
The challenges show how difficult it can be to help people be vaccinated. In response to what was seen globally as an emergency, the government moved quickly ahead with vaccine before infrastructure and trust could be established. Now the vaccine campaign has become more patient, emphasizing the need to allow time to communicate, build trust, and prepare workers. This is a slow process, but it will yield benefits across all vaccine efforts.
Therefore, we ask your continued support for LBB through the rest of this year. The pandemic is dynamic and we will assess our campaign in the New Year. As we work toward that aim, we are thankful for your continued support.
For more information contact David Boan at firstname.lastname@example.org